I was born in Bakersfield, California, and lived there one entire month. So much for the Bakersfield sound, I suppose. My father and two uncles were evangelists in the San Joaquin Valley, and my first exposure to music was in the funky, four-square, hellfire-and-damnation Churches of Christ up and down Highway 99. No musical instruments were permitted because none are mentioned in the New Testament, so it was four-part gospel—vocals only. There was a weathered old fiddler in one congregation who looked like he’d emptied many a bottle before his conversion, but he wasn’t permitted to fiddle during service—he’d play soulfully at the Sunday after-meetin’ picnics.
I was never religious, never baptized, but I loved the singing, and those gospel songs still sound in my mind. “Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow, are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” Did that lamb have bleach in its blood?
When I visited the...